Borrowing a page from the recent popularity of “tow-in” surfing, Vega and his staff organized an elite crew of the most experienced personal watercraft pilots in Puerto Rico. Greg Prothers, Marvin Ellis and their compatriots Angel and Bradley usually spend their days riding their wave skis for the water sports and tourism industry. But for this weekend, they put their training as lifeguards and safety personnel into the service of pro surfing. It was organized that all the surfers would be picked up individually by the watercraft near the shore and then driven outside to the lineup before each ride. Then, after each competitor rode their wave they would wait at the designated pick-up area and the “Water Taxis” would dash in through the lineup again, to pick them up and return them to the outside. In addition to being the only way that the competition could be completed, the skill of the ski pilots gave reassurance to the sponsors and organizers that the safety of the competitors was guaranteed.
“Our number one priority was the safety of the competitors”, said Ariel Aviles, of “High Impact” Promotions, the Event Producer. “Corona Extra was happy to spend the additional expense to see that the contest could be completed in this new and innovative fashion. The wave ski pilots were the true heroes of the weekend”!
While watercraft assisted surfing has become more common at many events, it is thought that this occasion was the most elaborate yet seen. “I would never had the energy to compete at this level without the ski assist”, said event champion Gabe Kling, of St. Augustine, Florida. “ I don’t think I would have even made it out”.
His victory was the second in a row for Kling, who had previously won the Corona Extra event at Middles last October. He was happy to be returning to Puerto Rico to compete again, with his wife and baby daughter accompanying him this time. “She was born just before Middles last year and that contest paid for a lot of diapers”, said Gabe, who took home another $10,000 first place check for his victory Sunday. Kling took the win by a margin of 14.20 points to 11.84 over second place finisher Brian Toth, of Isabela, who won $4500.
However, Toth enjoyed the added consolation of being crowned the 2012-13 APSPR year-end Champion for his total points accumulated during the three events that comprised the Corona Extra Circuit. In addition to his second place yesterday, Toth had also been runner-up at Domes in 2012 and finished third at Middles, last October, meaning that in all three events he had never finished lower than the Semi-Finals. “Brian is the man to beat in Puerto Rico”!, said Kling. “I’m so happy that we are good friends, and he invites me and my family to stay with him when we visit Puerto Rico”. Rounding out the Men’s top five for the season were Josie Graves and Jose Tavarez of Puerto Rico and Francisco Bellorin, of Venezuela.
The family atmosphere of surfing in Puerto Rico is another thing that keeps a tight knit community of surfers competing on the local circuit year after year. In the first man-on-man quarter-final of yesterday’s contest Brian Toth had to face his younger brother Wesley, which made it a tough heat to watch for their parents Craig and Peggy. The Corona Women’s Champion, Alexis Engstrom, of Rincon, usually goes surfing with her brother, Leif, who placed equal fifth in the Men’s division.
On the Women’s side of the draw Alexis took a narrow victory in the Final by a margin of 14.3 to 12.4 over Maria Kuzmovich, of Daytona Beach, Florida. The girls thrilled the excited crowd of spectators with gutsy performances in the giant conditions, and handled the ski-assisted format with great composure. Engstom’s paycheck was $ 5000 to $2000 for Kuzmovich. Alexis also made it a clean sweep by winning the Women’s overall title for 2012-13, with Maria again finishing second. The rest of the Women’s top five for the season were Amy Murphree of Puerto Rico, Amy Nicholl, of Florida and Idalis Alvarado, P.R.
The new competition season of the Corona Extra Pro Surf Circuit for 2013-14 is scheduled to kick off again this Fall at Middles, in Isabela, but the spectacular conclusion of last weekend’s event at Marias will be a hard act to follow.
“We have so many people to thank for the success of this contest”, said Vivianee Vega, APSPR Executive Director. “Our whole staff contributes such a professional effort: from the lifeguards, to the runners, to the tabulators, to the beach marshal, to the photographers and videographers, to the sound system, to the judges, to the spotters and timers, to Pito, the “Voice of APSPR”; the public has no idea of how many dedicated people it takes to produce a quality surfing tournament like this”. “And, of course, on this weekend, the skill and bravery of the water patrol drivers, who were the heroes who saved the event. Our hearts go out to all of them”!